When The Golden Door Spa invited my boyfriend and I to experience 5 nights on their property, I was immediately excited, but unsure what it would be like. I did know that Oprah and Julia Roberts are fans and that in 2019, Conde Nast Traveler named it the World’s Most Iconic Spa. But I had never done a full spa experience like this, where it’s a full week basically just dedicated to your body, your fitness, your health. Literally. You are either working out, being worked on, or resting. Friends of mine have done things like The Ranch in Malibu (where you hike at least 8 miles a day; a non-starter for me) or We Care (sounds unappealing; a liquid diet + colonics!) and they have never appealed to me. But daily massages + facials and good food? Appealing indeed.
Still, this would be something totally out of my usual realm. 6am hikes, and then spending the rest of your time until dinner at 6 doing a mix of workout classes and spa treatments. Would I survive? You know this: I identify as an indoor cat. I eat relatively healthy, work out 4-5 times a week, but I love my wine and have never met a cheese board I didn’t consider to be a soulmate.
The Golden Door is one of the top-rated, most luxurious spas in the country. It was founded in 1958 by Deborah Szekely and her then-husband, Edmond, and has welcomed some of the world’s most rich and famous. Think Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. I have been invited to write about some really cool experiences for my blog but this might just take the cake!
(The Golden Door very generously gifted us this experience in exchange for sharing it here and on social media).
Golden Door Spa Review
The Golden Door is located off of a nondescript road in San Marcos, CA (near Escondido; a little over a two hour drive from Los Angeles). The 600 acre property boasts over thirty miles of hiking and biking and a series of buildings inspired by Japanese honjin (inns). There is a traditional bath house, Japanese gardens, a bamboo forest, koi ponds, three pools, an entire farm (most of the produce we ate throughout the week was grown on site), an olive grove, and a massive collection of outdoor lanterns and Asian art. I’m probably missing something!
Retreat Options (Co-ed vs. womens week, etc!):
The traditional stay is a full seven days. We stayed 5 nights and four days, which is an option if you would like. I think you could even just go for three nights if you’d like. The most popular option is the women’s week and then they do maybe 5 men’s weeks per year and just two co-ed weeks per year. I desperately wanted to do the co-ed week, and persuaded my (skeptical, but willing) boyfriend to join me. I knew that he could desperately use the relaxation, and selfishly knew that I would have more fun with him by my side.
Our Co-Ed Week Experience
On the co-ed week it was mostly couples but there were also lots of single women as well. I had really wanted to do the co-ed week as I wanted to be able to experience it with my boyfriend… and also, as an introvert I felt more comfortable having him there. They cap each week at 40 people but it was still a little overwhelming at first! I’m really glad we were together.
We met so many fantastic people – a few of whom I really hope we will stay in touch with. There were a lot of couples celebrating big milestone birthdays, a few celebrating retirement, a couple celebrating that their last kid was out of the house, etc. And of course, there were a lot of executive types with really intense jobs, looking for a break! There was one couple in particular that we really bonded with. She is the president for a major retail company and he works in visual arts. They go to spa retreats like this probably twice a year. The reason they love places like The Golden Door is (after working a really stressful job) not having to make any decisions.
You put on your workout clothes in the morning (you could literally wear the same thing every day as they do your laundry for you), you don’t wear makeup, your meals are cooked for you… all you have to do is show up for your spa appointments and decide which activities you want to do. While my own job is decidedly less stressful than hers, that appealed to me too. All you have to do is show up and everything is just taken care of for you.
Check In & Arrival process
Pre-arrival, you set up a call with the spa to talk about your goals for the week. You’ll also provide them with any dietary restrictions or allergies, your favorite exercises and activities, and any other pertinent details. One thing to note is that everything (besides your spa treatments and personal training sessions) is completely optional. So you could take 5 or 6 exercise classes in one day, or you could sleep in and relax. There is no shaming or guilt, it’s completely up to you.
We checked in around 4pm on Sunday. When arriving at The Golden Door you almost miss the entrance, at first glance it is unassuming and nondescript. Security is pretty tight, you call down and a gate is opened. From there, you take a quick COVID test (and are given tea + a ginger cookie while you wait). The valet took our bags and our keys, asking us if we’d like a complimentary car wash.
Upon arrivals, there was a tour of the property, forms and paperwork, and then dinner at 6:15. It was back to our room by 8, ready to rest up for a busy day one!
Accommodations & Amenities:
I loved our room. It is a little bit dated but that didn’t bother me at all (I did hear that the property is closing in December to renovate the bath house and several of the guest rooms). To be honest, I liked the mid-century vibe: it made me day dream a little bit, wondering which fabulous celebrities stayed there back in the sixties. Our room was a treehouse style. When you open the door there’s a place to put shoes and then a spiral stair case leading to a living room with a generous sitting area. This was nice as my boyfriend had to work a bit, so he had a spot to work if I went to bed early.
There was also a little alcove off the side of the living room where… the massage table is located. Part of The Golden Door experience is daily massages. Such a luxury, and nice that they keep the beds in room! And then there was the bedroom! I will say that all beds are queen beds and it’s typically (even for couples) one person per room. I am glad they put us together, I would have been lonely otherwise!
There is a bath house (literally RIGHT next to our room which was so nice) with a hot tub, sauna, and steam room. There were a few nights after dinner where my boyfriend and I would retreat to the hot tub in the bath house after dinner. Such a nice way to end the day. There are also several gyms, several group fitness rooms, a beautiful yoga studio (it’s up above the pool, also a bit like a treehouse).
They offer laundry on premises and also give you two comfy warmup sets (zip up, sweatpants, t-shirt). We opted to wear our own clothes but it’s a nice option. You do not need to pack much. They also discourage you from wearing anything other than workout clothes or a swimsuit… no jewelry or makeup necessary. The laundry was so great, if you put it outside your door by 8am you’d get everything back by the end of the day. This was really nice, I can’t tell you how happy I was to not have to pack a million workout outfits (and then come home with a suitcase full of stinky, sweaty, workout clothes!).
During your orientation call, you will let the spa know about your dietary preferences. Any allergies or food sensitivities (or preferences) will be noted. You can also let them know your calorie meal plan. My boyfriend and I both chose the largest meal plan (1600 calories per day). I have to admit, I was worried that given the daily hikes, training sessions, and workouts it wouldn’t be enough food! We were fine. There are three meals throughout the day plus snack breaks. And if you are ever hungry, you can just ask the kitchen for a snack.
The food is really, really good.
In speaking to the other guests, the food is one of the things that sets The Golden Door apart from other spa experiences. Dinner is always a three course meal. On the first night, we had salad, black miso cod (a repeat guest told us that it was actually Nobu’s recipe), and creme brulee. I think that was the best night but it was always a treat. And I loved that we got a (small!) bite of dessert after every lunch and dinner. I will say that I had to adjust the way I eat… back home I typically have a small breakfast, a big lunch, and a smaller dinner. Lunch was typically the smaller meal of the day which took some adjusting. There was one day I only ate half of my breakfast… by 3pm, I was wishing that I had saved it.
I really liked how healthy the food was, without tasting like health food. One evening, Chef prepared the most delicious corn soup I’ve ever tasted. We were all looking at each other like “how is this not packed with cream!?” but he later explained to us that it was the leeks base (plus a little olive oil). I feel really inspired to up my own healthy cooking game.
There is no alcohol (well there is secret alcohol, more on that below!), but there is caffeine. I would not survive this week (or any week to be honest) without coffee! I will say that we had the most delicious fresh ginger tea every night after dinner. So I bought and juiced fresh ginger at home to make it myself!
Above is a glimpse of what my calendar looked like.
This retreat is highly focused on fitness, which was great by us. In the morning there is always an (optional!) 6:00am hike. You can choose between a one mile “meadow walk,” a three mile hike, and a steeper 5 mile hike (that starts earlier). We found the 3 mile hike to be just right!
Then, there are TONS of classes for all fitness levels. Sculpt, yoga, restorative yoga, trail running, pilates mat and reformer, pretty much everything you could ever want. Plus, sportier classes like pickle ball, tennis, and archery. I really liked the sculpt and yoga classes. And we had a blast taking pickle ball on our last day. The class sizes were nice too… there were never more than 5 people in my classes, so you get a really personal, hands on experience.
On top of that, you’ll be paired with a personal trainer. Depending on the length of your stay, you’ll have several sessions with that psame erson. I had the same trainer for all three of my personal training sessions throughout the week, Ellen. She was soft spoken and friendly but not afraid to make me work hard. We did a mix of weights, core exercises, treadmill intervals, and TRX. She kicked my butt.
There were a lot of wellness sessions too. I did not go to any of the wellness sessions but if this is something you’re interested in, they had so many: lots of nutrition oriented talks about gut health, macros + sugar, etc! We kinda felt like it would be best to focus on fitness and the relaxation stuff and skip out on the lectures. I think the really wonderful thing is that you get to pick and choose and use the experience to what will serve you best!
Skincare + Beauty Treatments:
During my 5 night/4 day stay I had four facials. This sounds a little bit over the top but it was wonderful. The first day was a consultation and a shorter hydrating facial. The second day, she did some extractions, a lengthy facial massage, and a mask. The third day was a micro-current facial, and on the last day I upgraded to a hydra-facial which was an awesome deep cleanse. We also each had a pedicure (if you do the longer 7 day stay you will get a manicure too!) and a body wrap. If you do the longer stay more treatments are involved (I think an additional body wrap as well as a body scrub!)
My boyfriend had a back facial one day. He loved it! My only criticism of the facials was that I was surprised they used traditionally at-home devices (like the NuFace for example which I own and use a few times a week back home) as opposed to more spa grade devices. The products they used (mostly a mix of Golden Door and Eminence) were wonderful.
Monday – Day One!
Monday was our first full day! I am not naturally a morning person, so I tried to just keep myself on East Coast time… bed at 9, up at 5 or 6. The property offers three hikes every morning. The “meadow walk,” a 3 mile hike, or a 5am hike. We chose the three mile hike and I was pretty nervous about it (I’m bad at hiking!) but it ended up being really moderate. We ended up talking the whole time with another couple and it went by really quickly.
When we got back to the room, breakfast was waiting for us.
Every day you choose your meals for the next day. Breakfast is in your room and the other meals are in the common spaces. I had a vegetable frittata and my boyfriend had a Greek yogurt parfait. And we each had our own French press. We love our coffee!
After breakfast we had a little break and then I had a 9am training session.
Then it was 10am yoga with Francine, followed by a “broth and vegetable break.” I chose to skip the 11am class block (every hour has a different class block, you can choose what classes you’d like to take – or skip out in favor of relaxing!) and relax in the bath house. At noon I had my first facial of the week with Jennifer. Then it was lunch. Lunch was vegetable spring rolls with chicken. (I was still hungry to be honest!). After lunch I had a little break and then took a 30 minute sculpt class. That was the last of the hard work for the day. Then it was a 3pm massage (they come to your room – heaven!), a break, restorative yoga, and dinner!
Tuesday, Day Two
We were tired and sore so skipped the hike. After a leisurely in room breakfast I waddled (I was so sore!) down to a 9am toning class. This was with resistance bands and was pretty awesome. After that, I had my training session at 10. I had been thinking I’d do an 11am yoga class but was SO SORE afterward, so I opted to lounge by the pool. Then it was onto the relaxing part of the day: a facial at noon, lunch at one. After lunch I took a myofascial release class, then I had a massage at 3. After the massage I had planned on going to a restorative yoga class but I was tired so I took a nap. Dinner was at 6 and then we just went back to our room to hang out and we were in bed by ten!
Wednesday, Day Three
I woke up sore in places I didn’t know could be sore! We started the morning with a 3 mile hike and then a stretching class. Then we both had separate training sessions. And then I went to yoga. Then broth and veggies and a “balance, gait, and posture” workshop. I have terrible posture and was grateful for this class. It was really helpful. Then it was a facial for me and a pedicure for my guy (he would not stop looking at his feet afterward, it was adorable). Then lunch and a “release and let go” class which was basically a nap/meditation – wonderful. And then, my 3pm massage, a stretching class, and dinner.
Thursday, Day Four
Thursday was my big pampering day. I had four treatments which just felt so over the top and luxurious: a massage, a facial, a body wrap, and a pedicure. It was heaven. I loaded up my morning with classes (a deep stretch class, a yoga class, a pickle-ball lesson!) and then after lunch it was allllll of the pampering and then a nap before dinner. It was our last group dinner and I honestly felt a little emotional to leave. We made some great friends on the trip and it was sad to say goodbye. There were a lot of hugs, following each other on Instagram, promises to keep in touch. (You will laugh, my nickname became Palm Springs Grandmother).
Overall Experience At The Golden Door Spa
We really loved our experience at the Golden Door. As we said to each other many times over the course of the weekend: “We are just guests in this world!” A full week costs $10,450 which is candidly not within our budget… but if it were, we would be regulars. We both really loved it and took a lot away from the trip. It was an amazing way to reset to healthy habits and I don’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed! My favorite thing was the in room massages. The food was a close second, same with the people. And the personal training sessions and workout classes were amazing. Who am I kidding, the whole week was amazing!
It is definitely expensive but between the personal training sessions, spa treatments, meals, classes, etc. you are also getting a lot.
The biggest thing I noticed after our stay was that I just wasn’t craving junk food any more. I try not to say that foods are “good” or “bad,” but pre-Golden Door I had definitely found myself reaching for carbs, carbs, carbs… especially processed ones (white bread and bagels). I got home and found myself craving veggies and salads. It was also really nice to come back from vacation and feel like I was in better shape than when I left!
I felt a little out of my element getting back into the world. This might sound totally crazy but after a week where your schedule is planned so meticulously, you aren’t wearing makeup, you aren’t getting dressed, everything is done for you… I felt a little bit helpless! If I were doing this again I would place a delivery grocery order for the day I get back to fill the fridge with healthy groceries. I also recommend (if you are able to!) taking a day or two before getting back to work. I really liked that I had the long weekend afterward to re-acclimate myself back to society. And I know this sounds dramatic but my boyfriend agreed. We both just felt a little bit “off” getting back to real life.
General Things to Know:
There is wifi! And you can totally work a little (if you want) while you are there. They just ask that you not be on the phone in common areas. The schedule is flexible. The only things you “have to” do are your personal training sessions and spa appointments. But honestly, I wouldn’t go unless I wanted to do a lot of activities and classes. It just wouldn’t be worth it otherwise.
They have a “secret” wine service. Between 1-8pm you can order a glass of wine to your room. We did this on our last night!
Thank you to The Golden Door for having us.
Looks absolutely amazing, and so well-deserved! This may be a silly question, but are you allowed to bring snacks? The meals look great but 1,600 calories feels quite tiny, especially given all the activity! So glad you got to experience this!!
You can always ask for more food (I did that quite a bit). You can of course keep whatever you want in your room but given the cost of the week (and that it is all inclusive) why not just ask! They’ll bring you extra food at lunch (I asked for more several times) and they also make amazing nut butters and cheese + cracker plates!
Looks soo luxurious! Thanks for sharing all of the details and for the cost transparency. Maybe I’ll get there one day 🙂
I hope you do!
Amazing! I sent this post to my husband with a note that THIS is what we are doing for my 40th birthday. It’s still two years out but I CANNOT WAIT.
I love it!!!! That would be an amazing 40th!
It’s such a comprehensive review. Thanks for sharing your detailed stay schedule. It sounds a really nice idea for couples to celebrate their big moments aside from the pricy part(I guess it just costs that much to create such an luxurious experience). I think the resort is really healthy for people who’ve been in demanding lives and can’t live less-than alternatives at the moment. It creates an escape they could use. The night pool picture looks really peaceful. Glad you received this invitation.
I took that photo on our last night… my boyfriend I had one glass of wine and sat by the pool and reflected… it was so peaceful!
My mind is spinning! My husband would never want to do this but my sister and I could really enjoy all aspects of it. Can you tell us about tipping and expectations there?
That’s a great question. Yes, tipping is expected. You can give what you’d like but they also provide you a suggested amount to tip; which we paid for ourselves. For four days our suggested tip was $600 each.
LOVE this review and it’s now on my list for sure! Interestingly it reminds me of when we would go on safari 🙂 early game drive, healthy meals, massages, naps, evening game drive and repeat daily. Such a good way to recharge and comforting to me when it’s all scheduled and I don’t need to think or make any real decisions!
I love that! It was such a great reset.
I understand this was gifted so I am not sure if you are able to answer this question. On top of the price for the week, what was the culture/expectation regarding gratuity? Is that included in the price? Are you tipping on every service? Thank you for any insight you are able to provide 🙂
No that is a great question, another reader up thread had asked as well. Tipping is not included. When you check in there is paperwork to complete and one page contains tipping guidance; it’s optional of course and you can choose to do their recommendation or your own tip. For our 5 night/4 day stay the recommended tip was $600 per person, so that is what we did!
I hadn’t seen the above comment. Thank you for responding to mine also! I really appreciate it and that they outline a suggested amount for the entire stay rather than having to think about tipping each provider/each treatment, carrying cash, etc.
I also really appreciate you highlighting their women, men and co-ed stays so each attendee can feel most comfortable. This review is incredibly thorough and thoughtfully written. Thank you for sharing.
While it isn’t in my current budget, I hope to save up and one day visit as a milestone celebration 🙂
Of course! Happy you enjoyed the review.
Your experience looks amazing. I went to Canyon Ranch with my mom a few years ago and I have been dreaming of another spa week ever since. The best part about it was that when I got home, it really inspired me to turn my Saturdays into local spa days. I try to take a novel workout class or do a new a hike followed by a massage or pedicure. It also got me into stretching which I had never spent a lot of time on before. I record Classical Stretch PBS on my DVR or take a 15 minute stretch class at the gym with all the old folks. It’s so beneficial and doesn’t feel as hard as yoga. Glad you had a wonderful time.
I LOVE that tradition, might need to copy you!
That’s such a lovely idea! Thank you for sharing.
How lovely! So glad you had such a fun break.
I’ve been secretly dreaming of one since I read Sophie Hannah’s great thriller ‘Did you see Melody’ (totally up this community’s reading alley, if you haven’t already!) but this has really cemented that dream. Sounds like pure bliss.
Ooh I am going to have to read that, thank you for the rec!
I have been there several times and never knew about the secret wine service Good to know.
It’s a fun little secret!